Acts 2:37-47.
 
The Fellowship of Believers: More than Pot-Luck.

         Copyright © 2006, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
Sermon, Cedar Rock First Baptist Church.  October 7, 2006


In the first chapter in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus after His resurrection, charged the disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit when they would be empowered to be witnesses to the gospel. He then ascended to heaven, leaving them confused. In the second chapter of Acts, the apostles and the others were gathered together to prepare the Pentecost feast. The city of Jerusalem was filled with Hebrews and converts who had come from every nation to celebrate the feast. The Holy Spirit came down and filled the 11 apostles and about 100 disciples, empowering them to proclaim God’s goodness in the languages of the visitors. This aroused great wonder and curiosity in the people, inspiring them to gather around the disciples to find out what was going on.

All of this took place to prepare disciples for ministry, and to prepare the hearts of the people to hear Peter’s first sermon. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, drawing from scriptural prophesies in Joel and Psalms. He then declared that it was they who were listening who crucified Jesus on the cross. Furthermore, he testified to Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 2:37a.

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart,

We see the response of the people in Acts 2:37a. The word that is rendered “pricked” can also be “pierced”, or “stabbed”, reminiscent of Jesus’ being pierced by the sword immediately after His death on the cross. They were cut to the heart. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would convict unbelievers concerning their sin (John 16:8) and their need for Jesus.

John 16:7-11. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged

What are the three things that Jesus describes that the Holy Spirit will convict the unsaved of? Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment. We recognize that nobody can come to Christ unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we will pray that the Holy Spirit go before us to prepare the heart of one who we wish to share the gospel with. The Spirit’s convicting power was certainly evident in the hearts of many of the people who heard Peter on that day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:37b.

and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Many of us remember that point in our lives when the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin, our need for righteousness, and the consequences of the judgment on our lost state. Those who have never experienced this may be completely outside the Christian fellowship. Some may be part of a church membership, but because they have never submitted themselves to the saving power of Jesus Christ through the call and power of the Holy Spirit, they cannot testify to such a conviction. It is quite possible that such people are members of churches, but are not saved, and do not have the salvation that some may have convinced them that they have.

This is not much different from those to whom Peter was preaching. They were, for the most part, very sincere Jews. Their travel to Jerusalem for the feast is a testimony to their faithfulness. However, they were misguided by the teaching of their church. They did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and did not understand His authority, His proper place of Lordship as the Yahweh they knew from their scriptures. Until the Holy Spirit “pricked” their hearts, they did not question their state as members of the church fellowship. However, what did the people do when the Holy Spirit got through to their hearts? They immediately questioned all of what they had learned and understood, and sought a resolution. They needed to know the truth, and how what they had learned and lived all of these years fit into the world view that their understanding generated.

When the Holy Spirit convicts us of our disobedience to God, it is appropriate that we have questions. What is the source of the answers for these questions? We can find much in God’s Word. We can also listen to advice from those sincere Christians who may be more familiar with God’s Word, a person such as a pastor. I often suggest that new Christians first read the gospel of John, and follow that with Paul’s letter to the Romans. That is a good resource for any Christian who wants to reconsider the nature of their faith.

Acts 2:38.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

What was Peter’s answer to those who asked “What shall we do?” Peter did not “beat around the bush.” He provided a direct and clear answer. First, they must repent. What does it mean to repent? Some teach that it means to feel sorry for what you have done wrong. Though such an emotional response to sin is appropriate, it is not the essence of repentance. To feel sorry for sin but to continue in it is not repentance. Consequently, the basis for repentance is found in the turning away from sin and going in a new direction. Peter calls on the lost to turn from their sin, making a volitional choice to seek after godliness rather than selfish desire.

Peter then states that each of them must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. This is the only place in the New Testament where baptism is tied directly to the remission of sins. To understand this we may need to go back to the source of the instruction for baptism that was commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:

Matt. 28:18-20. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.

Take a close look at verse 19. What are those who are taught the gospel to be baptized in? Does it say to baptize them in water? The command is to baptize them in the “Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” To baptize means to immerse. The command is to make disciples of people, baptizing them, or immersing them, in the teaching of who the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. Still, we should not minimize the baptism of a new convert in water. The baptism in water is a symbol of the baptism in the name of God. It is not a replacement for it. A great error is made when we think that people are saved and/or discipled simply by immersing them in water.

To view baptism in water as the end of the process of salvation is both ignorant and dangerous. It is ignorant of Jesus’ command to make disciples. Such ignorance can leave to an environment where new Christians are baptized and left to fend for themselves in their new faith. This is a very common error of the church. Without discipleship, the new Christian is left to flounder on their own, often becoming disillusioned with those who brought them into the fellowship. The command is to disciple, not to dip. Failure to disciple new Christians may be the most significant factor in the lack of vitality that we see in most church fellowships, and the lack of impact that the church is having on the world.

A shallow understanding of salvation and the part that water baptism plays in it can also be dangerous to the spiritual condition of the person subject to baptism. One can be led to think they have repented and are saved solely through the act of baptism, yet never experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, and never seek or desire discipleship as a result. They will identify themselves as Christians but fail to experience the vitality that true repentance gives. They will finally fail in the judgment, making this shallow definition of salvation dangerous to the seeker.

Peter makes the distinction when he refers to baptism in the “name” of Jesus Christ. It is easy for us to miss this distinction because of the simple use that English makes of the word, “name.” To the Jew, these words linked the acceptance of the nature of Jesus Christ with the act of repentance.

Peter also links the act of repentance with the filling of the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit that draws people to Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the drawn person to accept Him and to seek repentance. The Holy Spirit also gives the power to repent. Some teach that the Holy Spirit comes at two points, one at salvation, and another when the Christian is “filled” at a “second blessing.” There is no doctrinal or exemplary basis for such an argument. The Holy Spirit is a person of God, not a variable product that is dispensed by God. The Holy Spirit comes and fills that “God-shaped” hole that God has placed in the heart of every person. Once, filled, the relationship we have with the Spirit is based not on how much of the Spirit that we have received, but rather how much of us has been turned over to the Holy Spirit. That is a decision that the Christian has to make. It is not a state imposed upon us by the Spirit.

Acts 2:39.

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Peter refers back to the promise from the prophet Joel (2:32) that stated God’s Holy Spirit would fall upon all people, including children (who were not considered part of the promise until adulthood) and all that “afar off.” This is an idiom that was used by the Jews to refer to Gentiles. It is interesting that even as Peter always would have difficulty dealing with his own prejudices against non-Jews, he illustrates here that he knows that the gospel is for all people, not just for the Hebrews.

Acts 2:40.

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Luke did not record the entire sermon. He does tell us that Peter pointed toward the need for those who would come to Jesus to be separated from their perverse and corrupt generation. Is the generation in which we live corrupt? What are some of the indications of its perversion? The call to obedience is a call to be separated from that corrupt society. What are some of the ways that Christians are to be different? Christians should not be involved in any attitudes or actions that are corrupt and evil, not by law, but by choice. If the Christian is indeed subject to the authority of the Holy Spirit, the desire to do evil is supplanted by the joy found in doing what is inspired by the Spirit. The turmoil that is generated by sin in the heart of a Christian is replaced by a peace in the knowledge of our obedience and the witness of seeing God’s grace in action.

Consequently, there should be a distinctiveness in the life of a Christian. When compared with those who live the perverse lifestyle of sin, the differences should be obvious. What are some of the ways that Christians should be identifiable? A good place to start is that the love of God should be evident in us at all times. The world will not understand this as God’s love. They might think of you as being sincerely friendly, generous, and nice. There is a temptation to stifle that distinctiveness when we are outside of the fellowship of the church. I have met many people who live as spiritual Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydes. They are spiritual schizophrenics who leave their Christian side in the church walls and their worldly side outside of the walls. By doing so they are hypocrites in both worlds. Why is it so easy to leave your Christianity inside the church building? Certainly, we are less threatened as we express spiritual ideas while in the fellowship, and this is appropriate. Let us not, however, deny Christ in front of men. The consequences of such action are numerous.

Acts 2:41.

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Note that not all who heard Peter’s words received them. Some who rejected his words could have been some of those who accused the tongue-speaking disciples as being drunk in the early morning hours. They could not discern what was happening, and likewise their hard hearts kept them from being able to discern the truth of Peter’s message. Likewise, not all who hear the gospel will respond. We, as Christians, can live a life of planting seeds of the gospel everywhere we go, sharing God’s love at every opportunity. Even when we do, we will not usually find people flocking into the doors of the church. Most will reject our message, and most likely those who accept it will be those we have a relationship with. They will see God’s love in us and trust the message of the gospel only after they trust us.

Nevertheless, the size of the Christian church increased about 25 times when about 3,000 people responded to Peter’s message. Here we see that they responded in two actions. First, they received his word with gladness. Those who came to Christ submitted themselves to Peter’s teaching. They responded to the Holy Spirit that had “pricked” their hearts and understood that the gospel has authority. When cannot submit to God without submitting to His Word. Furthermore, the word “received” goes beyond submission using a verb tense that involves and active and seeking reception of that Word. When we are fully submitted to the Holy Spirit, we become hungry for the word of God as the Spirit encourages our desire to know God more.

Second, they were baptized. Apparently, the purpose and symbolism of baptism was included in Peter’s message, as they came to the disciples for baptism. That must have been quite a scene as a crowd of 3,000 was baptized. Most of those in Baptist churches expect all who profess faith in Jesus Christ and desire to join the church to be baptized before their membership in the church is “official.” A shallow understanding of baptism can lead the act to look like a simple rite of initiation, leaving the new Christian confused as to why the church finds the act so necessary. I have heard the testimony of Christians who were just baptized stating that they did it because it was required for membership, and they were okay with that requirement. These folks were not taught the purpose of their act by a church that gave the significance of baptism little real spiritual purpose. A church that was called “baptist” because of their doctrine of baptism, became a church that baptized only because they were called “baptist.”

Acts 2:42.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Not only did the new converts receive the word with gladness and immediately followed their profession with baptism, they committed their lives to Christ in four areas. What were they?

(1) They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching. The new Christians did not just accept Christ and walk away. The Apostles continued to disciple them, fulfilling the command to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The word rendered “steadfast” implies their sincere desire to learn. They demonstrated an , (A-ni-ma-SOOS-ma-kox), a desire to learn that inspired them to act upon that desire and seek the teaching of the Apostles. All Christians should have a similar desire to learn more of God’s word. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Christians never read God’s word on their own, and very few seek to learn from others.

(2) They continued in fellowship, , a word that means much more than just spending time together. Often Christians will feel that they are strong in fellowship. The word used for fellowship here includes a caring generosity and sharing that flows through the fellowship. It is a love for one another that runs deep and defines the relationship they have with another, not how they act in each others presence when they meet for worship or study.

(3) They broke bread together. A modern interpretation of this might be to think that they ate their meals together. The concept of breaking bread has a much deeper meaning to the Jew. Recall that at the last Supper, Jesus is described as breaking bread as part of the Passover meal. The ritual meals such as Passover and Pentecost were considered acts of worship. The breaking of bread involves more than just eating. It involves sharing in a worship of God that is full of thanksgiving and praise. Consequently, the breaking of bread is closer to worshipping together than it is to eating together.

(4) They continued together in prayer. The whole concept of prayer took on new meaning to them. Up to this point in their lives, prayers were words that were recited in the hopes that they were heard by God. They were recited in public to make the speaker appear righteous. How ridiculous this type of prayer must have felt to these Christians at this time. Now, for the first time in their lives, prayer had power. Prayer was a true and affective form of communication with God that was for the first time in their lives a two-way dialect. This would inspire them to continue in this new access to God that they had never experienced before.

Acts 2:43.

And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

Is it any surprise that every single Christian experienced an awe and wonder at what they were experiencing. When the Spirit is so empowered in the fellowship see how wonders and signs were possible. What kinds of wonders and signs did the apostles most likely do? There were probably physical and spiritual healings, demonstrations of prophetic understanding and truth, and other such spiritual acts taking place on a regular basis.

Acts 2:44-45.

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

We see a church that all Christians would probably like to belong to. Its membership continued to grow as more and more people heard the gospel and responded. Their fellowship was characterized by unity. It was a unity that was promoted by a generosity among its members that inspired them to give to one another as any had need so that none would go without. Their giving was spontaneous and from the heart. Many of these people included those who came into Jerusalem for the Pentecost feast, who had no other means of support at the time. Note that the spirit of unity here is one of giving to one another as needs were found. It was not an organization where all of their possessions were pooled and considered belonging to everyone. The early church did not practice communal living in this sense. They just could not stand by and see another in need without responding in love and generosity.

Acts 2:46-47.

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Fellowship with other Christians was a priority for these believers. They came together at every opportunity. Note that the church was not located in a central facility as our churches are today. They met with one another in homes, moving around from one home to another in order to maintain the fellowship. In doing so, the homeowner would be showing hospitality. Imaging never knowing how many people would be there on any given day as they broke bread together and ate together.

What was the result of their unity and faithfulness to God and to one another? (1) They found favor with the people. Their generosity was well received at this time by the people. The persecution that is to come had not started yet, though it would not be long in coming. (2) The Lord added to the church daily as more people were attracted to the atmosphere of unity and love.

We can learn a lot from the experience of the church as it started on that Pentecost Sunday. We can examine the sincerity of the people, their willingness to become subject to the power of the Holy Spirit, and their wholehearted surrendering of themselves and all that they owned to God. Let us, as we seek to become more of what God would desire, seek to also love one another in a way that will promote unity, sharing with one another out of that love, and demonstrating God’s love in all that we do so that those outside the faith will find a distinctiveness in us that will cause them to be a part of the family. Fellowship among believers is far more than pot-luck dinners. It is the continual demonstration of unconditional agape love for one another. Such love does not argue over the color of the carpets. Such love does not try to push its own way over others. True fellowship is generous and giving, loving and patient. True fellowship is what people are truly looking for. What more appropriate place would there be to find true fellowship but within the body of Christian believers?